We have just finished a three-week series of workshops at Bridgend College that explored aspects of identity and confidence. Working with second year Musical Theatre students, we were keen to explore the relationship between performance in every day life and performance on the stage.
Back in November last year, these students saw our Youth Theatre production of In Search of Aphrodite. They understood the piece on a deep level, and our post-show talk ended up in a discussion of ‘when are we real’? The students were also impressed by the use of technology within performance (as opposed to the hidden technology of mainstream Musical Theatre). This project aimed to use both of these as starting points for individual exploration.
We used autobiographical writing and storytelling to generate material, and then we used technology (microphone, film, live projection, soundtrack) to find ways to ‘perform’ this material. We were inspired by the work of choreographer Jerome Bel, especially his pieces ‘Veronique Doisneau’ and ‘Headphones’ from The Show Must Go On.
Students found the process challenging and liberating. They were able to express how they found the personal process of creating a solo work, and also how it felt to watch other people’s work:
‘I find it hard to watch stuff that personal, I form a barrier over it, it’s so powerful, it’s like I don’t want to know.’
‘Hearing your story, made me laugh because it reminded me of how I felt when I was small.’
‘It’s really hard, totally different, to let everything go and just concentrate on yourself.’
‘When you’re acting you put up a guard, but when you’re doing this, you can’t.’
‘It’s a different kind of acting- it’s not fake, it’s true.’
‘I found it really hard playing me. If it was a devised piece I’d have other people around me rather than it just being me.’
Most of the students chose to use some form of technology. They did the recordings themselves, and everything was directed by them for their own solo. A number of them used a variety of pre-recorded film, voiceovers (with distortion and layering), and projection. This, in itself, became a metaphor for asking ‘Who is the Real Me?’. When we asked about how they found using technology as a medium for telling their stories, some of the comments were:
‘It was easier to record it for me – I would rather have recorded than have to say my story.’
‘I think it got more emotional having it recorded, so hearing the story and just standing on the spot – created more tension – so you’re watching the person and hearing almost what they don’t want to say – it was like a memory thing, like I’m thinking of it. And the projection behind could show how I thought everyone was looking at me, rather than having to say how I felt.’
‘My soundtrack was exactly what I heard. What I was portraying, as I sat here, was me when I was young looking at exactly what was happening, so we don’t see what happens, we only see me sitting here, hearing what happened.’
Our final question, was did they gain any new perspectives from the place where they sat/stood on the stage? We were looking to see if performance, as a process itself, can offer new perspectives on how we see ourselves in the world. One student who performed her resistance to performing herself, by doing very little, but amplified with a microphone (scribbling, tearing paper, tapping, humming) said:
‘I think as myself, I’m not comfortable on the stage, so I started offstage and finished offstage. That was better for me.’
‘I felt awkward telling a story to no-one, if I was telling a story I’d prefer to be sitting in a group like this and telling it. I felt out of place.’
‘I like being onstage with someone else – the reason I couldn’t do it was that I was worried what other people might think of me.’
‘It took me back to the first day I saw this theatre, and with the girls speaking, it shows I made friends, my emotion changed from being alone to a smile – having friends.’
Thanks to staff at Bridgend College for inviting us to work with their students, thanks to the students who worked so sensitively and honestly with each other, and also to Hayley and Becky, the two students from University of Glamorgan, on placement for this project, who helped enormously.